Empires and Colonialism

Empire has been the dominant form of government throughout most of human history. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in South America as a consequence of empire. English is spoken in Australia, North America, and South Africa as a consequence of empire. Many ongoing conflicts in the Middle East emerged out of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, and competition between the French and British Empires. Tensions in South Asia can be understood in part as legacies of the Mughal and British Empires. Many believe that the different economic fortunes of North and South America can be explained by imperial structures. And Eastern European tensions have much to do with the legacies of the Russian and Holy Roman Empires. The United States itself not only emerged as an independent state as the consequence of a British imperial crisis, but has had a long imperial history, both in North America and throughout the world.
What then is an empire? What is the conceptual relationship, for instance, between the Roman and Chinese empires? Do empires have phases? Why did some groups achieve imperial status while others did not? How have empires organized themselves internally, along lines of race, class, and gender? Why did past empires often have a religious or even messianic goal? Why have certain empires decayed while others flourished? What state practices provoked independent resistance movements? How have ordinary people sought to combat imperial rule? What have been the social, cultural and economic results of empire? Do imperial states inevitably spawn terrorist responses from below? This pathway draws on the rich global coverage in Yale’s history department to explore the origins of the largely post-imperial world we now inhabit.